There's a bursting, blasting, blitzing revolution taking place in nonchocolate confectionery these days, leaving extra-strength mints and gums poised to explode on the retail scene.
Led by the Altoids product of Callard & Bowser, potent breath fresheners such as Blitz and Frisk are offering consumers a powerful peppermint pop in a tiny mint package.
Meanwhile, retailers contacted by SN are also seeing increases in the sales of flavor-bursting gums such as American Chicle's Cinn-A-Burst and Mint-A-Burst products.
Elsewhere in the nonchocolate arena, sales of kids' novelty items continue to rise. Retailers also reported a resurgence of some old-favorite count-good items.
"The increased dosage of mint products is doing quite well," said Jeff McClure, category merchandiser and manager at Kennedy's Piggly Wiggly Stores, Abingdon, Va.
"These are relatively new in the last year or so. I don't think they're cannibalizing other mint or gum sales," said McClure. "It's kind of 50-50. Some consumers have tried it, but they haven't quite stopped buying their regular old breath mint. I guess they're just trying to see if they like the new products better. So really, these products are adding sales to the category."
According to supermarket scan data provided by Schaumburg, Ill.-based A.C. Nielsen, the breath sweetener category -- which includes regular and dietetic breath sweeteners in gum, pellet or rolled form, and excludes liquid and aerosol breath fresheners -- saw a 3.4% jump in dollar sales in 1994 over 1993. The category brought in about $115.4 million.
The Nielsen numbers also showed that while defending their turf against the powerful newcomers, category leaders Breath Savers and Tic Tac were up 8.5% and 8.7% respectively.
At the same time, sales of Certs Sugar Free Extra Flavor mints rocketed to $12.9 million, a 28.1% increase from 1993 -- testimony to the growth of this extra-flavor trend. Regular Certs, on the other hand, were down 5.7%
According to Heidi Schuster, vice president of Schuster Marketing Corp., the Milwaukee-based importer of Blitz Power Mints, "Altoids have sort of opened up the category. I would say they were the leader.
"Eighty-five percent of all mint purchases are impulse purchases. So these products sell great at the front end," she added.
Schuster also pointed out that power mints offer a higher profit margin and a higher dollar per turn. For instance, Blitz retails for $1.89 (60 mints per unit), she said.
Nielsen's figures indicate that in 1994, Altos retailed for an average $1.93 at supermarkets and captured $4.4 million in sales, which was up 30.3% over 1993. Unit volume rose 31.7%.
"It's funny," said Blitz's Schuster. "About seven or eight years ago, when Altoids came out, they were marketed in the gourmet section next to items like Lindt chocolates.
"Now they're no longer there; they're with all the other power mints and extra-strength breath mints up front. I think that's because people want a true breath freshener, whereas a lot of the mints on the market are candy breath mints," she said.
At West Point Markets, Akron, Ohio, Cindy Yost, specialty food buyer, continues to merchandise Altoids as a gourmet item, along with Frisk, another extra-strength mint.
"The key thing about Frisk is it doesn't have all the sugar that an Altoids has. But the Altoids are so popular and outsell the Frisk."
Yost said Frisk is catching on with people who prefer a sugarless mint.
"Our merchandising is a little different here. We have the regular Snickers bars at the registers -- but only at one register because we only have five. We carry our Tic Tacs and all that up there.
"Then I have what I would call department store glass shelves that are between 12 and 16 feet long. There are four shelves. It comes about chest-high. It's a main grocery aisle. And that's where I merchandise my candies; I have chocolates and hard candies, and, of course, the mints.
"They're power peppermints and there's nothing subtle about them," she added, noting that the British Altoids, which come in a tin, appeal to her more worldly customers. "These specialty imported candies sell like crazy for me."
"I have a great trend toward British products, and my British candies have tripled in sales. But also we have a very large British clientele. And our customers travel so much and have been to England. They see things there and want to pick it up again. So we provide it for them."
Benny Dominy, assistant grocery buyer at Brookshire Bros., Lufkin, Texas, said his chain has just taken on the Altoids mint. "That's a relatively new item for us, so it's too early to tell how they're doing because we've just made the distribution into our stores.
"We had some consumer interest in the product and we've never had an upscale mint," said Dominy, explaining why they brought on Altoids. "So when the opportunity came up, the buying committee felt we should check into it and see how it would do in our operation."
Other chains are also waiting to see how well the mints perform.
"Those extra-strength mints were doing quite well, according to the last market analysis I saw," reported Brian Ryckeley, grocery buyer at H.G. Hill Stores, Nashville, Tenn. "But at this time, I'm not carrying any."
Instead, Ryckeley has eased back into the mint category by reoffering Tic Tacs, which he had discontinued.
"We've carried them before over the years and never did that well with them," he explained. "Of course, now, during the last two years, they've really upped their marketing campaign, so we put them back in to see how they do."
Ryckeley does carry the Cinn-A-Burst and Mint-A-Burst gums. "I'm up about 20% on the Cinn-A-Burst. That's a good round estimate if I went out the rest of the year on what I've done so far. It's about the same with the Mint-A-Burst," he said. "So they're picking up in sales."
Felicia Berry, buyer at Mid-Mountain Foods, Abingdon, Va., also has seen the extra-strength mints and carries a few flavors. But she told SN it's too early to judge how well they're doing.
Amy Davey, grocery buyer with Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C., said she carries Altoids, but has seen no other super-strength mints.
However, as far as nonchocolate candy goes, Davey pointed to kids' novelty gums as being "a big hit."
"We were getting more of them, so we added a separate rack for the gum," she said, explaining that the rack is of the roll-around variety and is merchandised in different places [but generally up front] in each store.
Cinn-A-Burst is holding its own on the shelves, according to Judy Baker, a buyer with Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., Charleston Heights, S.C. But she said the most obvious nonchocolate trend she has noticed is the resurrection of a few familiar brands.
"Some older favorites are staging a comeback and picking up in sales, such as Bit-O-Honey and Good 'n Plenty," she reported. "I think this is because people remember them from their childhood; they get a bit nostalgic."
Baker said fruit-flavored candy is big right now as well.
"Good 'n Plenty is another item we just added to our lineup," said Brookshire Bros.' Dominy. "But here again, it's too early to tell what it's going to do for us. The indications are that it's going to be a good item."
H.G. Hill's Ryckeley said, "The last two things I've put in nonchocolate are the Twizzlers, which are doing fair, and the Just Born Hot Tamales. Anything hot is doing well."
Ryckeley reported sales of his peg line items are "flat to a little bit up." However, the growth is in novelties.
"We're doing a lot with that. It's a big segment right now and is becoming more and more popular. Items sell anywhere from 99 cents to $4 a ring."
And not only does the novelty segment offer higher rings, it crosses all classes of consumer trade, said Ryckeley. "Some of our biggest stores are in lower-income areas and it sells well in those stores.
"We have one checkout rack that's completely devoted to novelty items. [Area competitor] Kroger has the same thing. In fact, they have one or two racks in their stores."